FlashFood is one of the stellar teams to emerge from ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service program—called EPICS. FlashFood is gaining attention at ASU as a recent winner of the Innovation Challenge and also a fifth place award at the Maker Pitch competition at the Polytechnic campus. The team is also entered in national student competitions, including the Microsoft Imagine Cup and the Dell Social Innovation Challenge.

FlashFood is comprised of six ASU students, Eric Lehnhardt, Ramya Baratam, Katelyn Keberle and Steven Hernandez from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Loni Amundson from the School of Sustainability and Jake Irvin from the W.P. Carey School of Business. Together, these motivated students from different disciplines are looking to reduce waste and feed the hungry by efficiently recovering and distributing excess food.

Flashfood is a food-recovery network powered by social media. The FlashFood software and the mobile application they are developing will make it easy and efficient for community centers to collect excess food from nearby restaurants, caterers, and conventions.

This idea has been on the mind of local food bank and restaurants owners for a while, but has lacked the organization resources required. FlashFood is addressing the organizational logistics by creating a software and system that recognizes the need for flexibility in the food-recovery process.

Team leader Eric Lehnhardt, comments, “Our food-recovery network works outside of the 9-to-5 schedule.”

The FlashFood team realizes that perishable food has to be collected and distributed quickly, or it simply goes to waste. This social media-inspired software utilizes the power of instant communication to connect restaurants, drivers and community collection centers, like never before. With FlashFood, a restaurant manager or caterer can essentially “tweet” a local community organization to signal drivers to make the pick-up.

Team member Jake Irvin, says, “On average, 1,100 tons of food is wasted in the Phoenix metro area each day.”

Lehnhardt adds, “There’s a lot of food, but little communication.” FlashFood supplies this needed communication—instantly.

However, FlashFood team members don’t intend to limit their improvements to Phoenix, or even Arizona. Already working on numerous partnerships, the FlashFood team hopes to one day engage at a global level. Long-term goals, Lehnhardt says, “would be at least a 20 percent reduction in food waste in the Phoenix metro area” and further, “a FlashFood presence in all major metropolitan cities.”

Irvin adds, “We’re also looking to make people more food conscious.”

The FlashFood team hopes to dramatically improve life for the millions of Americans who struggle with food insecurity and to improve life for every American by reducing landfill waste.

These local and global aspirations all began with an EPICS course at ASU. EPICS programs, originally started at Purdue University, are now taking action at 20 different universities. The success of ASU’s EPICS program is evident in the many competitions each team participates in and the growing number of wins. The EPICS program takes learning outside of the classroom and allows students to tackle real-world problems in their own entrepreneurial way.

EPICS teams are not limited to engineering students, but rather strive to enhance the productivity of engineers projects by drawing from a talent pool of a variety of majors. The FlashFood team is composed of four engineering students, a business student, and a student in the School of Sustainability.

They are further considering the addition of a design student to improve their software’s design. Team member Katelyn Keberle has stretched her studies to cover many new areas through EPICS. As a biomedical engineer, she stresses the importance of creativity saying, “We are creative types. If you can make a medical device, you can make a mobile app.”

FlashFood team members emphasize the value of working with diverse disciplines. “The different perspectives and cross-pollination of ideas, achieved through collaboration, made FlashFood possible,” says Lehnhardt.

What all EPICS students have in common is a sincere desire to think innovatively and to improve the community. The EPICS program certainly enables motivation and the FlashFood team is a prime example of the role motivated students can have on their community and world.

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